2015 bookshelf update: part 4

So I mayyyyyy or may not have completed 14 15 books in the last two months. And I beat my reading goal for the year (36), which I now realize was obscenely low. Welcome to my life, folks.

A big portion of my reading this update was part of the 2015 Booktubeathon. This is a reading challenge that many booktubers (aka YouTubers who makes videos about books) I follow were taking part in, and I decided to do it, too. I didn’t make the video portions of the challenges, but I did fulfill all the reading challenges, which included reading seven books in seven days. So that probably explains a good chunk of the number 15 you saw earlier.


The Martian, by Andy Weir
I absolutely devoured this book. Like, I sacrificed sleep to finish it because I just could not put it down. That is how much I loved this book. It’s a science fiction novel about an astronaut named Mark Watney who is left on Mars after a huge storm causes his mission team to evacuate, the crew believing Watney is dead after being struck by airborne equipment. Watney is forced to rely on his skills in botany and engineering to stretch his food supply, rig a water system and re-establish communication with NASA in hopes that together they can figure out a way to rescue him.

I don’t read much science fiction, but the few books I have read generally tend to take liberties with the finer points of science. The Martian is not one of those books. This was the most meticulously researched novel I’ve ever read. It almost read more like a physics word problem in parts, but the tone was always engaging enough to keep me going. And Watney as a narrator is so. darn. funny. He’s snarky and silly and almost irreverent about his situation in parts. I laughed so many times while reading it. [Does contain adult language]

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The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
I started reading this with my young adult group at church, but we never ended up finishing it as a group. I finally got tired of it sitting unfinished, so in July I finally completed the last few chapters. It’s a supremely interesting read, an allegory of heaven and hell that raises more questions than it answers. I kept a pencil tucked inside the book while reading, and I’m pretty sure about half the text is underlined or bracketed in some way. It was my first experience with Lewis outside of the Chronicles of Narnia series, and I’ll definitely be reading more in the future.


Delicious!, by Ruth Reichl
Sometimes you just need the literary equivalent of Goldfish: good but not great, yet you can’t stop reading. That’s what Delicious! was for me. It follows Billie Breslin, who moved away from her family in California to take an assistant job as the renowned Delicious! food magazine in NYC. When the magazine gets shut down, Billie is asked to stay on to man the office until the transition is complete, and during that time she discovers a secret in the magazine’s long-locked library.

There were definitely a lot of good elements thrown in this book, but I think there were just too many. You got a romance for Billie, an historical mystery involving the great James Beard, another mystery involving Billie’s family, and a whole host of kooky characters that were a bit difficult to keep track of at times. Billie was also somewhat of a “special snowflake,” with a pitch-perfect palate that somehow causes everyone she meets to immediately be in awe of/love with her. Everything combined made the story hard to swallow (ba dum tss) for me, but it definitely served its purpose as an easy, quick summer read.


White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
The prose in this book is so beautiful. It just flows and flows; I absolutely adored the words of this novel. Unfortunately, I just could not connect with the plot. Set in North London, it tells the story of two families as their children grow up and grow apart. It deals with racism, war, marriage, religious extremism, and everything else in between. I don’t know what exactly created the disconnect with me, but it was there and it was real. Since it’s considered a modern classic, I pushed myself through it, but I just could not enjoy it. The prose is still gorgeous, though.


All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
This was the treat waiting for me once I finally finished White Teeth. I am an absolute sucker for WWII historical fiction (especially involving German narrators) and almost equally as enthralled as POV-swapping novels (when they’re done well). This book gave me everything I was looking for.

In the book, a French girl named Marie-Laure, who has been blind since age 6, and her father attempt to evade the Nazi invasion of France. They go to hide in the walled coastal city of Saint Malo, but even that is not safe. Marie-Laure’s father attempts to make her dark world safer by building a scale model of the city so she can learn her way around, the same way he built her a model of their Paris neighborhood when she first went blind. At the same time, a German orphan named Werner has taught himself how to build and operate radios, which makes him an invaluable asset to the Nazi army. Their stories collide during a late-war bombing of Saint Malo, and the novel switches back and forth between the aftermath of the bombing and Marie-Laure and Werner’s lives growing up in their respective circumstances (does that even make sense?).

A bit of the story dragged in the middle, but it’s incredibly compelling and moving as a whole. 4.5/5, strongly recommend.

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The Stranger, by Albert Camus
“Through the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed ‘the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.'”

I only read this because it’s considered a classic, it was on my shelf for some reason, and it’s short. It was pretentious, and I did not enjoy it. Moving on.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis [BOOKTUBEATHON BOOKS 1-4]
I tried to get through the Narnia series as a kid. I loved The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,  but I just never could get myself into The Horse and His Boy. My stubborn self wouldn’t just skip and move on, so the series sat incomplete on my shelf until now. I definitely think I would have appreciated these later books more if my first encounter with them was when I was younger, but I am very glad I finally read them. The Silver Chair was my favorite of these four, and I stand by my decision to be aggravated by The Horse and His Boy when I was in middle school because I still wasn’t the biggest fan.

Quite unfortunately, I do not have The Last Battle in my possession, so I still have one more book left before I’m through with the series. Gonna need to track one down soon.


The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant, by Drew Hayes [BOOKTUBEATHON BOOK 5]
With that title, there was no way I wasn’t reading it. Hayes takes a comedic, satirical spin on on the “monster” stories of vampires, zombies and were-beings and creates a collection of stories that had me laughing out loud. Fred was a regular ol’ accountant who was suddenly transformed into a vampire, but instead of going the traditional monster route, he decided to keep on being an accountant. He does his work at night, uses his connections to buy blood to avoid hunting people, and generally is a pretty average, boring non-human. That is, until some para-humans attack his high school class reunion (on Halloween, no less) and he is thrust into a crazy world of monster hijinks.

The only thing that really irked me was that Hayes rehashes the basic facts of Fred’s life at the beginning of each of the stories in the book. Because I was listening to it on audiobook, I couldn’t easily skip/skim over it, so I just had to sit through it five different times. Other than that, I really enjoyed the book, and I will be reading the sequel, Death and Taxes, sometime soon (probably around Halloween for the appropriate ambiance).


Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel [BOOKTUBEATHON BOOK 6]
The only things I needed to know about this book were “worldwide epidemic” and “traveling theatre troupe” before I knew I had to have it on my shelf, and it did not disappoint. The world has been ravaged by the Georgia flu, a virus that spreads through general close contact and incubates rapidly. Aka, worst possible thing. The novel is mostly set 20 years after the flu, with most of civilization clustered in small communities, disconnected from each other since most of the infrastructure collapsed due to the epidemic. On the night the flu broke wide, Arthur Leander dropped dead of a heart attack while performing the lead in King Lear. Many of the characters explored are connected with this actor in some form or fashion: his childhood friend, his first wife, but mostly Kristen Raymonde, a child actor who witnessed Leander’s death. In the post-flu era, she travels with a theatre troupe that performs Shakespeare plays in an attempt to keep some culture alive in a world that’s starting over.

Most post-apocalyptic style novels feel more rushed; there’s something more urgent about the plot. Station Eleven is anything but that. It’s more about the characters and how people attempt to rebuild after being torn down, each in their own way. There is still action and suspense, but it’s not the main focus of the story. I can see how some people would think it felt unfinished or lacking in some way, but for me it was a fantastic, stay-up-too-late-to-finish-it read that I highly recommend.

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Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More, by Kelly Sue DeConnick [BOOKTUBEATHON BOOK 7]
Yes, comic bind-ups completely count as books. I’ve been wanting to learn more about Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers as a character for a while now, and the Internet suggested this volume as a good place to start. I absolutely adored everything about this bind-up. Carol Danvers is such a fun character; she has obsessions and sass and a bit of a hero complex. She is strong and powerful, but she balances it with compassion. She even has a cat she takes to space with her, which is an automatic win in my book. The story moved quickly and engaged you immediately. The artwork was beautiful, and there was even some Guardians of the Galaxy crossover for my Groot-loving self. I flew through it in an hour, and I will absolutely be grabbing the second volume as soon as I can get my hands on it.


Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
I couldn’t figure out how to sum up this book, so here’s the Goodreads blurb:

Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a version of Regency England where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.

Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right–and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

All the reviews of this book describe it as “Jane Austen with magic,” which, yes, is what it is. But the characters are dull copies of Austen’s and the magic serves no real purpose, so it’s one of those books that makes you wonder why someone felt it needed to be published. Apparently enough people like it since it’s the first in a series of five, but I am not one of them. The best part of reading this book for me was that I read most of while hanging out in a hammock, so at least it had a little bit going for it on my end.


Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon, by Melissa Anelli
I grabbed this one from 2nd & Charles a few months ago because who doesn’t need more Harry Potter in their lives? Anelli is the webmistress of the Leaky Cauldron, one of the leading Potter fansites. While the title seems to indicate more of a objective view of the rise of the Potter fandom, it’s more of Anelli’s personal journey with the fandom. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does affect how the story is told, obviously. The book goes into the realm of wizard rock (wrock), fansites, Potter podcasts and the absolute fervor that surrounded the Harry Potter books and films, especially as the later books were published.

One of the most fascinating chapters for me explored how the HP fandom began to boom alongside the rise of websites like LiveJournal and other community sites. It was a way for Potterheads to find each other from around the world, and it just created a perfect storm for the rise of a fandom. It almost makes me wish I was still in school so I could do a thesis on the phenomenon (but only almost).

I only gave it a 3.25 out of 5 stars since Anelli came off a bit grating in some areas and there were more editing errors that I prefer in professionally books featuring exclusive interview material with one of the world’s greatest living authors. But if you’ve got an interest in the anthropological aspects of the Harry Potter fan fever, I’d definitely check this one out.


And that was my July and August in the world of books. Because let me tell you, when the days spend most of their time hovering in the mid-90s, reading in the air conditioning is about all you want to do.

As always, I’m happy to accept and/or swap book recommendations. Though with my TBR list sitting at over 80 titles, this may be a bad decision on my part. Oh well.

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2 thoughts on “2015 bookshelf update: part 4

  1. I really really really really really want to read Harry, A History (but, alas, have never been able to find it.) And for fun, somewhat similar reads, I recommend “Harry Potter Should Have Died” by Emerson Spartz (of MuggleNet) and “The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter” by David Colbert. So SO fun.

  2. Pingback: 2015 bookshelf wrap-up + top 10 | various and sundry

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